Old Washington.
Judiciary Square – Part I.

By James Croggon, The Evening Star, May 3, 1913 [pt. 2 p. 10]

L’Enfant and Ellicott in planning the city marked the near twenty acres of the Ben Oden tract which fell in the bounds of 4th, 5th, D and G streets as a reservation; and Washington and Jefferson, in March, 1797, designated it as Judiciary Square. A jail is an important part of the judiciary system and it was rightly named, for from 1803 for nearly seventy years was the county jail there located; and since 1823 the city hall has there been the home of the local courts of the District. But not only has it been so used, but it was the seat of the municipality for fifty years, our principal hospital nearly twenty years and schoolhouse for fifteen years.

The first use made of the space was by squatters in the southeastern part, mostly laborers, who were there till about 1820, when the city hall or courthouse was projected, and then they moved elsewhere, mostly to the squares south and east. When the Circuit Court of the District by act of February 24, 1801, was established, with William Kilty, James Marshall and William Cranch as judges, the necessity of a permanent jail arose. D. Carroll Brent, the marshal, until its completion, had a temporary place of confinement in the alley north of C street between 4-1/2 and 6th streets, long known as McGurck jail, from the fact that a man of that name was led therefrom in 1802 and executed near Pennsylvania avenue and 2d street for the murder of his wife.

Courts Held in the Capitol
The courts were then held in the Capitol, but a site in Judiciary Square was selected for the jail. March 2, 1802, Congress made an appropriation for the erection of a jail, and the site chosen was about the center of the square, a short distance north of the present watch box and toolhouse, and by an appropriation of $8,700, the jail was completed the following year, the cost being nearly $12,000. It was an oblong square building, one end of which was fitted up for the jailer, and for years it housed prisoners under commitment for trial or under sentence, runaway slaves and the indigent insane, and those confined there at the instance of their families. For years Cartwright Tippett was the jailer. Later Thomas Williams filled the place, and about 1847 Robert Ball, sr., was in charge. His son, Robert Ball, then a lad, was an assistant, and twenty years later was appointed to full charge. Notwithstanding there were prisoners here of all characters, and a whipping post was sometimes used, Dan Cupid was no stranger.

A daughter of one of the jailers and a tailor who had failed to pay his debts were mutually smitten. He was required to sleep at the jail, but was allowed to go anywhere within jail bounds, south of G street, west of 1st, east of 15th and north of the Tiber; and the girl was in the habit of attending to business outside, especially the marketing. One day the market basket was received, and after several hours she followed with the tailor and announced him as her husband. There was, of course, a scene, but the production of the minister’s certificate of the marriage induced the parents to make the best of it, and the warden not relishing a son-in-law being locked up, hastily arranged with his creditors for his release, and made him his deputy. Thus it came to his lot to turn the key on his former associates.

Descendants Still Live Here
The descendants of this couple are to be found in various parts of the country, and some of them are today residents of Washington. By the act of March 3, 1839, a new jail was provided for by an appropriation of $31,000, and the contract was made with Stanton Brothers, bricklayers, who, following the plan of Robert Mills, architect, erected a building in the northeast corner of the square, to which Jailer Ball removed his charges about 1840. Messrs. Stanton, Frederick P. and Richard H. were later members of Congress, the first serving ten years in the House of Representatives from Tennessee, and the latter six years as a member from Kentucky.

In January, 1841, the Medical Society of the District petitioned Congress to establish a public hospital. Instead, by an act of Congress in 1842, an appropriation was made to cause such alterations to be made in the old structure as to renter it suitable for the care of the insane and other public charges, and also provided for the improvement of the northern half of the square. The building was accordingly altered, but the few insane prisoners and paupers here were sent to the insane hospital at Baltimore at government expense, Congress having decided that the building was unsuitable for the purposes. Then the faculty of the Columbia College petitioned for the use of the old jail building for medical instruction and scientific investigation, and an act was passed, therefore, June 15, 1844. They immediately took possession and fitted it up.

Only Hospital in This Section
Under the name of the Washington Infirmary, it was the only hospital in this section for some time. In 1853 there was such a demand for space that when Congress was appealed to an appropriation was made to enlarge it, and at a cost of $20,000 two wings were added and a third story erected over the whole. Early in the civil war, April 19, 1861, the 6th Regiment of Massachusetts militia was fired on in Baltimore, some of the soldiers being killed and wounded. On the arrival of the regiment in this city the wounded were taken to the infirmary, while the remainder of the regiment took quarters at the Capitol.

In a little time it was an army hospital, additional wards to which were built adjoining. It was conducted as a hospital till the morning of November 3, 1861, when it was destroyed by fire. The destruction of this building led to the establishment of Providence Hospital on C between 2d and 3d streets southeast. The infirmary at the time of the fire was filled with patients and attendants. At first it was supposed that the blaze could be extinguished by the attendants, and there was some delay in giving the alarm and bringing out the volunteer fire companies. When they arrived the whole interior was doomed and several of the patients were seen at the windows. One fireman made his way to an upper window by climbing the spouting and getting in he found one of the patients suffocating in the smoke. He appeared with her at the window, from which he descended by ladder to the ground. There were several other narrow escapes, and most of the inmates and attendants lost their effects.

Dr. Hutchins Describes Fire.
The infirmary was then in charge of Dr. White, with Drs. Gourley and Poole of New York as assistants. Dr. E.R. Hutchins, Dr. S.W. Bogan and two others were medical cadets, and the Sisters of Mercy did the nursing. Dr. Hutchins, who is still living, was at the time with the other cadets asleep in a room on the main floor. He says: “I was awakened by the flames coming in our windows. We went into the hall in our night clothes, and while the others went to the different wards I went to the rooms of the Sisters of Mercy. One of them had an effection of the knee and was unable to walk. I took her in my arms and carried her out the rear door to a small school building northwest of the infirmary. There was about a quarter of an inch of snow on the ground. Placing her on the floor I returned. The building was in flames. We took the soldier patients to the schoolhouse and to a little jail nearby. I remembered going to the house of S.P. Chase and procuring some clothes to put on. We lost everything we had in the fire. Shortly after the patients were all moved to the old Gales house at Eckington.

The jail erected in the northeast part of the square about 1840 was in use more than thirty years – a three-storied brick structure known from its color as the “Blue Jug.” The jailers were, besides Mr. Ball above mentioned, James A. Williams, Lewis Wright, Robert Beall, Daniel Smith, Benedict Milburn, William H. Houstis and Gen. John S. Crocker. The latter was in charge when the transfer was made to the red stone edifice on 19th street southeast, which had been erected under the acts of 1872 and 1875 at a cost of about $600,000.